No evidence will convince you on the truth of what you do not want – Anonymous
I just came back from a Philosophy meetup and that quote resonated with me more than anything else we discussed in the hour and a half I was there. Not just because it applies to our everyday lives, but because it has significant implications on us as entrepreneurs starting our own businesses.
How often do we fall in love with our own idea that we get tunnel vision?
Are we building the minimum viable product according to our own eyes or what the customer needs?
Do we ignore certain user feedback for the sake of others because we like that particular suggestion better?
When we’re cursing a VC for not getting “it”, is it because they insulted our ego or did they really not understand our concept?
Is our unique selling proposition truly that or is it a facade to differentiate ourselves from our competitors?
Was our marketing strategy unsuccessful because it wasn’t executed properly or was it tainted to begin with?
As I’m constantly learning, it’s extremely difficult to take a step back in your own startup and analyze things objectively. I would argue it’s damn near impossible. I live, breathe and sleep thinking about my Company and I’m sure you do the same. We can’t help becoming attached and emotionally tied to our concept. For me, when my Company is on the down slope of that rollercoaster ride, I have a bad day as well.
So how do we know if we’re basing a decision out of something we want to believe or what’s needed? Obviously, some of it is necessary trial and error. There are also ways to test our assumptions to ensure our decisions leave less room for speculation. Regardless, I bet a little bit of that quote rings true for all of us.
For those who don’t know me I’m someone who develops habits, particularly with things I like. And when I like something, I become OBSESSED with it. Take a new song for example, I will listen to it repeatedly over a course of a few hours. I ordered rancheros huevos while out at brunch with friends a couple of months ago and I have become so enamored with the dish, I cook it for myself at least twice a week now. I would go as far as to say you can’t find a better tasting one anywhere else. That’s me…I fall in love with things I like, thrive to become the best at it, and either stick with it or lose interest and move on.
What’s my point? The word “change” is not at the top of my vocabulary list. I’ve put myself out of my comfort zone more in the last few months than I ever have and the level of on-going discomfort I’m experiencing is new. That said, I’m noticing I’m becoming more relaxed about the possibility of change, even embracing it sooner than usual in some areas. I’ve learned more about myself during these last three months than I have in years and this process has helped me figure out what I want and more importantly, what I DON’T want.
I’m an extremely private person and even being this open is different for me. Maybe I should add that to the list! As someone once said, “If you don’t create change, change will create you.”
Do or do not. There is no try. – Yoda
All of us in some form want to leave an impact on someone or something. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t want the satisfaction of making a difference. I would argue most of us lay out a time-consuming and complex plan on how we plan to accomplish this.
What if you made an impact on someone’s life without realizing it? Without even REMEMBERING it?
Let’s rewind about three weeks ago. It’s Friday night or my first ever Girl’s Night to be more specific. It was supposed to be three of us and a friend brought someone else along I’ll call Kim for this post. We introduced ourselves and started chatting. At one point, she leaned in close and told me we’ve met before.
“What? No, we didn’t.”
“Yes, we did,” she proclaimed. “Actually, you inspired me to become an entrepreneur.”
My jaw dropped. “When? Where?”
She went on to explain how we’ve briefly talked at a party three or four years ago. I was gushing about how I was about to start my Company. She said I was the first woman in technology she had met and she was so motivated by our conversation, she left her corporate job and started a web development shop right here in Philadelphia. At one point, she pulled out her phone and showed me that she still had my number saved from that night.
I was completely transfixed during our conversation, amazed that I had left an impression on someone without thinking twice about it or even knowing it. That I could have that kind of influence in such a small period of time.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. How many short encounters do we miss out on everyday that can truly transform someone’s life? How often do we ponder how our words and actions can leave a mark on others? Making a difference seems like a daunting task. As I’ve recently learned, sometimes it’s present in the small things.
At one point or another, we’re told to keep a notebook of our startup ideas. A place where we jot down the newest product/service concepts that pop into our heads. My battered one is shown above.
I started mine during my DreamIT Ventures days in 2008. I recently came across a digital version I compiled a couple of years ago and I became amused reading through them. According to my file proprieties, I haven’t updated it since September of 2009. It’s understandable because it’s around the same time I found my CTO for 123LinkIt and started building our alpha product.
I remember being one of those entrepreneurs that was afraid to share my ideas in fear of them being stolen. I’ve learned so much since then. I thought I’d take a moment to post some of the ideas I didn’t pursue. Here they are in no particular order – the good, the bad and the ugly!
As a sidebar, I currently hold the record for most “Innovative Idea Competition” placements at Temple University with three wins consecutively. The ironic thing is I entered 123LinkIt, the concept I finally chose to pursue two years ago and it only received an Honorable Mention. I actually predicated the outcome on Twitter. However, the good news is I ended up winning First Place and $10,000 in cash and prizes in their annual “Be Your Own Boss Bowl” (the equivalent of a Business Plan Competition). I outline the process and win in more detail here.
Inventing a tangible product and getting it out to market is on my bucket list. Here are some ideas I’ve had:
Yes, most of these ideas if not all now exist. Like one you see? Go ahead and “steal” it. I know I’m missing more and I’ll add them to the list when I recall them.
On a given week, I frequent at least five coffee houses. My record for most visits in one day is four. I use them as “my office.” I can’t sit still for too long and I get bored easily so I hop around from one place to another allowing the current location to pique my short-lived interest and then I move on to the next spot.
Yes, I could visit my office at Temple University (we’re their newest incubator company) but I enjoy the short walks from my new place in Center City and they’re great for meetings. I can also easily indulge in my new-found addiction to chai tea lattes.
One of my best friends recently told me he wants to open his own coffee house and we briefly entertained the idea of getting into the venture together. We talked about the aspects that would make it the “perfect” coffee shop. I can’t help thinking about it now every time I set up “office” and so I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts.
Oh I haven’t mentioned the coffee yet, have I? Well, see that’s the funny thing. I actually DON’T drink coffee. I know, I know…my family are late bloomers, my Mom starting to drink it in her 40s, my sister when she turned 30. That aside, I would find a way to ensure we had the best around by partnering with or hiring a coffee connoisseur. A few friends have recommended La Colombe coffee. Because I know my chai tea lattes, I would employ the same women who mixes them for the Last Drop at 13th and Pine in Philadelphia (try it, it is absolutely delicious!).
There would also be plenty of coffee alternatives such as Teeccino and protein smoothies. The food would be healthy, tasty, made to order and the portions would be satisfactory but not too big (TWSS). As an aside, one of my pet peeves is the ample portions provided by restaurants. The same with the pastries. The cafe would definitely have some kind of chocolate bar (because coffee & chocolate go well together, not because I’m a fanatic ;-)).
I have a couple of ideas to combat turnover issues. One is to limit internet usage depending on the purchase amount. Another is turn it into a coworking/coffee shop hybrid (If you’re not sure what coworking is, check out this great coworking FAQ page by Indyhall.org, one of the most popular ones in the East Coast). One room would be reserved for frequent patrons who want to pay a monthly fee. The other room would be for “normal” customers.
As far as the name, I’m not sure yet. My pal, JP Toto came up with a few possibilities. As you can see, I was clearly enamored with them.
What would make YOUR ideal coffee shop?
Think about your best qualities. Have you noticed they can often be your worst?
I’m extremely competitive, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, neurotically obsessive, a die-hard loyalist, relentlessly persistent, a hard worker, and the list goes on and on.
If you were to ask me which of my worst features would top the list, I would say my own attitude towards myself. Or to be more specific, that little voice in my head that constantly castigating everything I do.
“Why didn’t you do this instead of that?”
“Did you really think that was a good idea?”
And the ever famous, “you should have done better.”
The latter haunts me incessantly. The perfect story that encompasses these sentiments is when my startup, 123LinkIt, won First Place at Temple’s Business Plan Competition last year.
I had entered the Competition three years running, becoming a Finalist two years before but walking away empty-handed.
This time, I knew we were going to be in the Finals. We had submitted the same idea the previous year and we used the notes from the judges to improve our Business Plan. We had also launched and were showing revenue. Yet I still reprimanded myself awaiting the results. I was competing in a tough category against faculty members, graduate students and other alumni. I doubted myself during the process repeatedly asking if I really had what it takes to get to the next level.
When the results came in, I was elated. Instead of congratulating myself, I went into hyper-mode and started a grueling campaign preparing for the Competition. I called in every favor I had with other entrepreneurs, VCs, acquaintances, and friends – everyone I knew and didn’t know to help me with the presentation.
I practiced my pitch so much the night before, I lost my voice the day of the Competition. I spent the morning gargling with salt water in an attempt to regain what would later turn into a soft whisper.
When it was my turn to present, I recall looking at the panel of judges and being terrified at their blank faces. “Can they hear me? Better yet, do they even understand what I’m saying?”
My family and friends patted me on the back afterwards and congratulated me for doing a great job. I smiled weakly and thought back to my Q&A session. “I should have elaborated further on his question. Why didn’t I finish on time? How many points will these mistakes cost me?”
I gripped my sister’s hand tightly and held my breath when they called the announcements.
Honorable mentions – nothing.
2nd Place – nothing.
1st Place – 123LinkIt.com.
I should have been ecstatic, right? I wasn’t. I forced myself to walk to the podium and accept my award. I waited to see who won the Grand Prize and cursed myself for not being up there.
That morning I remember thinking my sleepless nights were going to be long gone after the day was over, that the stressful days were going to be a thing of the past.
I was wrong. I slept LESS the day of and after the competition then I had preparing for it. “Why did they win over me? What could I have done differently? I should have changed this and said that.” I convinced myself that I had cost the Company $50k (the value difference between the prizes). All I could think of the following week is how First Place wasn’t good enough and what I could have done to win that Grand Prize.
It doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? I’m saddened by my thoughts thinking about it now, more than a year later.
I’ve been doing this since I was little. You could put me next to someone who severely dislikes me and I would have worse things to say about myself. My Father was the badgering type, he wanted us to do better and his way of showcasing that was to criticize us as a means to motivate ourselves.
One of my goals this year is to eliminate this self-deprecating behavior. It’s a challenge because it’s a double-edged sword in that it IS a driving force. However, I want to reprogram myself to have it come from a loving place that’s not stress-induced and doesn’t include back-breaking pressure.
How will I start to accomplish this?
I’ve already begun by being aware of it. I believe a big part of it has to do with how I talk to myself. Now I catch myself when that little voice appears. “You did a great job with this, good work! You can do even better next time by doing this.” I’m also working on accepting compliments. I’ve noticed the two traits are related. The rest? I’m not quite sure yet but I’m in the process of actively figuring it out.
I first heard of GirlDevelopIt (GDI) last year and I immediately fill in love with the idea. It’s based in NYC and the goal of the organization is to repair the wide gender gap in software development by helping women learn how to program in a supportive and fun environment.
GDI was started by Sara Chipps and Vanessa Hurst, two women that were tired of being the only female voices in their computer classes. They decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are acceptable and everyone can learn in an encouraging environment. The courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites).
I liked the concept and price-point so much (only $20/class) that I took the Bolt Bus back and forth so I can attend their first HTML/CSS class. I wanted to continue without making the trek up so I inquired about setting up a Chapter in Philadelphia. Fast forward a few months later and I’m excited to announce GirlDevelopIt Philly! In fact, we just posted the schedule and details for our first class that you can find on our Meetup page.
We found a fantastic teacher that you’ll fall in love with right away. Her name is Jenn Lukas and she’s the Interactive Development Director at HappyCog and a leading authority on structural semantic markup and CSS. We also acquired a fantastic space at Two Liberty Place, right in City Hall. A big thanks to Francis Taney and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney for providing the beautiful space (I wish you can see the view!).
If you’re a woman or man (yes, they are allowed) and have wanted to dabble in HTML/CSS or learn how to code, this is a great time to get started!
When I presented at the first TechGirlz event last year, I made it a point to discuss why we need more women in Technology. There are many reasons and I focused on two. Point #1: Women are vastly underrepresented. Point #2: Diversity is needed to spawn innovation.
What is TechGirlz exactly? A kick-ass local organization founded by Tracey Welson Rossman with the mission of empowering middle-school girls to become future technology leaders.
The goal is to get girls interested in technology from the get-to through hands-on workshops and sessions. Girls learn how to code, build circuit boards, podcasting skills, etc.
When I was asked to be on Board earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity. I wish there had been an organization like this when I was younger.
All the classes are free and are run by volunteers. Our goal for this year is to reach more girls and run more events. We’re going to hold classes where the girls will learn how to build a website, start a blog, even dabble in game development (I know I’ll be in that class!).
How can YOU get involved? There are various ways to get involved and become part of the movement.
The last request seems odd so let me explain. The Whole Foods Market in Jenkintown supports a new non-profit every month by selling hot, fresh coffee for only a quarter. 100% of the money raised during the month of July goes to TechGirlz. Stop by, hold your next coffee meeting there or swing through during lunch.
For more information leave a comment or contact us at email@example.com.
Thanks in advance for your support!
This is the first of a series of blog posts of lessons I’ve learned as a non-technical person. These are not in chronological order. This topic was brought up recently so I decided to post about it first.
This was my initial idea of a bug “report” : “Hey John – I’m getting a 404 error on this link.” “To Mint.com – This part isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.” Notice I put the word “report” in quotes. That’s because it wasn’t a report. I would literally send an email with a one liner saying what didn’t work.
Photo Credit: http://www.zope.org/Members/ajung/PloneCollectorNG
I’m picturing developers everywhere shaking their shakes as they’re reading this. Don’t worry, I caught on to the right way quickly.
According to a good friend and a great developer that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, Owen Winkler, there are three components to a successful bug report that he blogged about here. To summarize, they include:
Make it easy for the Company/developer and include as much detail as possible while breaking down each category. Here’s a great example of a bug report submitted to GoDaddy:
What went wrong – When I went to check out, a pop-up full of offers appeared and I was not directed to the payment page.
What I did – I added a domain I wanted to buy to the shopping cart. When I clicked on Continue to Registration, a pop-up appeared telling me to stop and buy additional domains. I clicked “No Thank”s and another pop-up asked me if I wanted to purchase domain protection. Again, I clicked “No Thanks”. This time, I was directed to a page that displayed email options. Bypassing it directed me to a variety of hosting options. I was then presented with a page asking me to donate money for the server costs of displaying the upselling opportunities they provided at my convenience. Seeing no end in sight, I gave up.
What I thought was going to happen – When I selected the domain I wanted to acquire and hit checkout, I expected to be taken to the payment page where I would enter my credit card information to complete the purchase.
Okay, okay. I’m being facetious at GoDaddy’s expense (can you tell I’m not a fan?) but you get the idea. When you submit a report to a service or work with a developer, you want to provide the courtesy of completing these steps to streamline the Quality Assurance process.
Finally, you should include screenshots of the error if applicable. A lot of tools don’t include the URL field by default. If you’re talking about a particular page, drag the selected area so it’s in there as well.
*Bonus* – When submitting a bug, only include one per report. I’ve been guilty of adding a few at one time. Don’t do that. A kitten is also killed at your expense.
“It’s like a rollercoaster ride.”
“I feel I’ve aged 10 years the last couple of years.”
These are just a couple of statements I hear constantly as an entrepreneur. I’ve never felt them to be more true then this past week.
Yes, I said this past week and it’s only Tuesday. Let me explain.
I’ve been heads-down the last few months viciously working on 123Linkit’s beta launch. My CTO and I departed earlier this year due to his other commitments. Since then, I raised a small F&F round and have been working with contractors to get the product ready for our next release.
The main two contractors I’ve been working with have been referred to me by friends. The first, we’ll stick with his first name, Dan, has been absolutely exceptional. He is in constant communication with me, updating me on what he’s working on, reaching out when he’s stuck, and he’s been honest and straightforward in his time estimates and rates. I love him almost as much as I love chocolate. Almost.
The other is a WP developer (who shall remain nameless for now) from the suburbs that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting. I needed someone to refactor our plugin, he had the credentials, I trust my friend so we worked out the details and signed a working contract. I’ve had the extreme opposite experience with this guy. He’s barely in communication, full of excuses and has missed EVERY deadline we’ve set. Even more so, he runs his own development shop!
The difference between the two has been frustrating. On the one hand, I have this star developer who I possess the highest accolades for. On the other, I have to babysit this supposed business owner who’s full of broken promises.
Focusing on the latter developer, we had originally agreed on a delivery date of April 23rd and I paid for half of the development costs up front. I’ll save you the million and one reasons we ended up being six weeks overdue. I will say that at every deadline, I had to reach out and ask for an update. I almost never heard back on the same day and when I did, I was fed yet another reason the project was being held up. Regardless, tension reached a standstill a couple of weeks ago and I sent an honest email explaining how the project has not gone to expectations, how we’re more than a month behind schedule and that we had an impending launch date getting closer and closer. In addition, I provided a proposal that gave him 10 days to send me the final product and in return I promised we’d depart as friends and ensured I would fulfill the rest of his payment.
He responded within the hour, saying I’ll have it BEFORE the June 6th deadline I outlined in my email.
Wait, not so fast…
We went back and forth a couple of times and yesterday, I received this email:
Yasmine, I’m saddened to report that I could not complete this on time and to expectations. I hate having to admit defeat, but I just could not figure out the issue of why this was working incorrectly. I feel that at this time its best to just break contract and go our separate ways so that I quit wasting your time and so you can find someone that can actually resolve your issue. -#@!&*#
What?! Did this guy really just wait until the day of the newly proposed deadline, after the project has been overdue by SIX WEEKS, to say that he can’t finish the work?
As you can imagine, I was LIVID. I cursed up a storm, threw things around my poor boyfriends’ apartment and repeatedly punched his couch pillows (Shhh…don’t tell).
I drafted a few responses, deleted them, and sent a note back saying I’ll call him to discuss getting a refund on my down payment. We talked later in the afternoon and he promised to have a check to me by next Monday. I was civil, didn’t raise my voice, didn’t scream at him…it’s as if I had taken lessons at a lady etiquette school. Then, a friend of mine brought up a good point. “All this guy has done is make promises he hasn’t kept. How do you know he’s really going to send that check?”
Ah, that is true. I called him again, said exactly that and he promised again he would send the check out by the end of the week. He sounded so calm, so undisturbed that I couldn’t hold back any longer and I started telling him how his actions have set my Company back. Not even 3 sentences in, he interrupts and says “If you called to complain, I have work to do.”
Wait…what did you just say asshole?
How can you make sure you don’t work with someone like THAT?! I took a step back and analyzed what could have gone better and here’s my list:
Our beta launch has now been pushed back two weeks as a result. Don’t get played like I did. Less than six days and counting until I’m supposed to receive my refund. Should we take odds on whether or not I’ll have to take him to small claims court?